Perez de Cuellar denies reports of Morocco job

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The Independent Online
AN embarrassed Javier Perez de Cuellar, former secretary-general of the United Nations, was burning the telephone lines yesterday, denying to friends and associates that he had accepted a position with a company controlled by King Hassan of Morocco.

Since stepping down just over a year ago, Mr Perez de Cuellar has set himself up as an adviser for hire to a select band of international banks, corporations and state-owned companies but he has been careful to maintain a suitable distance from the work he did as the head of the UN organisation.

Like Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state who advises corporations for fees as high as dollars 1m ( pounds 704,000) a year, Mr Perez de Cuellar is tapping into companies looking for prestige advisers to enhance their boards.

The apparently erroneous report that he was preparing to join the board of the Omnium Nord Africain (ONA) company was particularly distressing to Mr Perez de Cuellar, because as secretary-general he was author of a controversial plan for a referendum in the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which many observers said was unfairly tilted towards Morocco's interests.

His annoyance over the press release issued by ONA and picked up by Agence France-Presse was understandable, as were his subsequent denials that he had accepted such a position.

Mr Perez de Cuellar, who cultivates the image of the discreet lawyer-diplomat and eschews the glare of publicity, enjoys the company of international power brokers, be they businessmen or leaders of countries. Alone of all those who have occupied the job of secretary-general, he has accepted positions on companies' boards of directors, hoping to profit from his reputation and his vast array of international contacts.

This practice is permissible because, unlike all UN staff members, the organisation's secretary-general is not subject to regulations which forbid them from using information acquired while at the UN once they have left the organisation.

There is nothing that prevents a former secretary-general from passing through the revolving door from public service to private enterprise. Mr Perez de Cuellar, however, is the first former secretary-general to have taken advantage of the abundant opportunities from international banks and corporations that are open to such a high-profile figure.

Since stepping down, Mr Perez de Cuellar has assembled a portfolio of positions in the business world and has lent his name to a new foundation representing the interests of disabled people worldwide and been named co-chairman of an organisation called Inter-American Dialogue for leaders in the Americas.

Among the positions he accepted which raised eyebrows of former colleagues in New York was that of a board member of two banks owned by Edmond Safra, one of Switzerland's most influential and discreet bankers. He also became an adviser on the board of a joint venture between Fuji Bank and Wolfensohn International which specialises in giving long-term strategic advice to a select group of international companies.